Book Shelf


Posted October 1st. 2005

By Nigel Westmaas

The subtitle of David Hinds new book, A conversation with African Guyanese in the presence and hearing of Indians is more striking than the premier title Race and Political Discourse in Guyana . One can easily imagine the reason for this. The main phrase Race and Politics is much overused and has been employed time and again to explain one facet or other of Guyana s political crises. The subtitle on the other hand boldly proclaims openness and the text sets the stage and the framework for frankness and innovation to the approach to race relations in Guyana. The publication, a collection of letters written by David Hinds and published in Stabroek News over time does not disappoint. It is relentless in its pressure and forthrightness on race relations and insecurity especially as counterproductive to Guyanese of African and Indian descent. What is different from the author's approach on race from commentators and supporters of the PPP, PNC and some other public pundits (with notable exceptions) is his ability to speak candidly as an African and be critical where it is warranted.

The small book, a collection of specific responses to other letters trimmed to reflect a cohesive string by topic over a period, is divided into three main important themes. These are: racial insecurity; the assessment of guilty race and racial militarism. There are also contributions in the Preface and foreword from Clarence Ellis and Eric Phillips respectively, and an introduction by the venerable Eusi Kwayana.

From the evidence of the edited letters, David Hinds displays great skill in the cut and thrust of discussion - yet it is a debating skill not intended for scoring points but galvanized to a liberatory intent and dedication to a multi-racial ethos. This is where the term conversation enters. But what exactly is conversation in a land of Assassins of Conversation as Martin Carter s poem in salute of Walter Rodney is titled? Conversation for Hinds is not semantic licence. It is about opening up and displaying bluntness with honesty on the race question between the sides precisely because, since the 1950s, the talk (as distinct from conversation) has been about rudeness, convenient deafness, abuse, politicking, sneakiness, electioneering and above all, an alarming lack of forthrightness and insecurities over race between the contending trenches. As Hinds contends very early in the text, one of the unfortunate things about Guyana is that most scholars, politicians and scholar-activists of all ideological persuasions tend to avoid any penetrative analysis of race in their discourse Hinds further contends that most who delve into race tend to do so almost entirely within the narrow confines of the reflexes of their own group.

In this collection one is made to read and feel that this is not game playing, but refreshing honesty in the search for answers to insecurities and hate. One source of the insecurity in so far as Hinds is concerned is the issue of marginalization of African Guyanese in the economy and society.

Time and again in the text Hinds comes back to the issue of African marginalization. He defines and delineates marginalization very well before putting the concept into action in the text. In the event, marginalization is very well articulated with examples and argument in the section/letter entitled - African marginalization is Real . Hinds is also blunt about African Guyanese who go overboard and identify a guilty race , in this case Indian Guyanese. For Hinds the concept of guilty race would not advance the cause of racial justice and peace.

The activist intent of the scholarly responses is another main feature of Race and Discourse . The potency and conviction behind his writing, one the reading audience may not necessarily know, but that is hinted by the several contributors in the prologue, preface and foreword of the book, is that as an African Guyanese, Hinds has worked and struggled in Guyana's politics exactly the way he writes, in what was a bona fide multiracial organisation. This detail serves to bring clarity to his drive and strengthen the logic and thrust of his polemics. This aptitude is usually described as the Rodneyite approach to the politics of race in Guyana.

In the same vein Hinds testifies from a history from below outlook - one that strives for unity amidst the pain of contemporary Guyana. Indeed the best term to describe the author's wish for Guyana is the African term ubuntu . The term, popularized by Horace Campbell (a Rodneyite resident in Syracuse University), when roughly translated, means love, forgiveness, willingness to share and reconciliation. David Hinds approaches ubuntu in his own words in the text when he says telling your own that they are wrong is one of the greatest acts of love.

In establishing his own critique of the dramatis personae and political process in Guyana, Hinds adroitly produces evidence of leaders and their organizations from all sides playing games in tandem with the political and social events. This method of criticism employed by Hinds on the continuing inflexibility of people and their organizations taking sides on the basis of self-righteousness reminds of an observation in another work on Guyana where Cheddi Jagan s complete reliance on the Marxist texts brought for him by Janet Jagan in the 1940's is cited in a VS Naipaul article of 1991. Jagan, after reading Lenin and Marx, said it helped him to have a total understanding of the development of society. Maybe if Jagan and his colleagues at the time, like Hind' s interlocutors of the present in relation to race and politics, had read into the spirit (as distinct from the detail) of Lenin' s little known admonition to the Azerbaijan communists in 1921, subsequent problems and social and political disasters would have been forestalled and history might have been written differently in both Guyana and the Soviet Union. Lenin told the Azerbaijanis that they ought to fully be alive to the singularity of their position and should appreciate the need to refrain from copying our tactics, but thoughtfully vary them in adapting to the differing conditions . He went on to warn the communists of the Caucasus not to copy the tactics of Central Russia but analyse the reasons for their peculiar features, the conditions that gave rise to them.

Without falling into the trap of easy comparison (a bugbear of Guyanese politics since the 1940s), one can attest that Hinds indicates a more positive entreaty in his text: critiquing and measuring the ethnic and racial situation with a view to accessing the best tradition of people assessment and prodding all sides to a resolution of the enduring conflict. While the edited letters represent the author s own tactical, immediate responses to debate it would be unfair to ask him to address issues outside of the immediate dispute. Yet, a deeper assessment of Indian insecurity and response and from whence it potentially springs, would have been useful measurement of what is possible in mutual security, based on the guidelines of the author's own themes.

Some other vignettes highlight the author s historical range but cry out for more treatment. The point of African credit banks for instance, requires more in depth work on the ways in which African dispossession has taken place over time and is an important subtext of marginalization. In upholding the theme of marginalization the author should also devote a measure of treatment to the historical Amerindian dispossession and marginalization in Guyana as related to the grand scale of reconciliation and humanity.

Will there be a real conversion to conversation ? The frustration of Hinds with the political process and the evidence on the ground illustrates the hard reality, that it is well nigh impossible to interfere with people hell bent on immersing themselves in recurring war games. But he boldly enters the fray; despite his own caution in the prologue that speaking out on race in a racially segmented place is always a delicate undertaking Hinds answers his own caution in adding that remaining silent is a far greater risk.

For the upcoming 2006 political season, with elections in the air and with the knowledge that the literal and figurative guns will emerge from the racial trenches, David Hinds text will assert even more importance. His call for conversation and follow up, like other calls, if unheeded, can lead to incalculable consequences for the nation-state still called Guyana.

The book is avaiable at Universal and Austins Bookstores in Georgetown and online at